Like most recent political debates in America, the discourse regarding public versus charter schools is shrill, polarized, biased and ultimately unproductive. This is a lost opportunity for the most deserving children: low income, urban students of color. Rather than debate charter versus public, we need to steal from the best, regardless.
Yes, there are extraordinary charter schools
Consider the following from a November 2015 New York Times piece, Urban Charter Schools Often Succeed. Suburban Ones Often Don’t:
“Charter schools are controversial. But are they good for education? Rigorous research suggests that the answer is yes for an important, underserved group: low-income, nonwhite students in urban areas. These children tend to do better if enrolled in charter schools instead of traditional public schools…Not all charter schools are outstanding: In the suburbs, for example, the evidence is that they do no better than traditional public schools. But they have been shown to improve the education of disadvantaged children at scale, in multiple cities, over many years.”
Or consider this finding reported on the Times editorial page in February 2013:
“For the second time in three years, a rigorous study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes shows that the typical New York City charter school student learns more in a year in reading and math than his or her peers in their neighborhood district schools. The difference, over a typical year, amounts to about a month’s more learning in reading and a whopping five months more learning in math.”
Are all charters good? Of course not. The same editorial points out that in general,
“From a national standpoint, the 20-year-old charter school movement has been a disappointment. More than a third of these independently run, publicly funded schools are actually worse than the traditional public schools they were meant to replace. Abysmal charter schools remain open for years, even though the original deal was that they would be shut down when they failed to perform.”
And, yes, there are extraordinary public schools
Are there spectacularly successful public schools? Absolutely. A quick query of SchoolBenchmarker™, for example,reveals that New York City’s PS 172 Beacon School Of Excellence is a benchmark performer. With a student population 85% of whom receive free lunch and 80% of whom are Latino or Hispanic, PS 172 posts extraordinary results relative to average state performance:
|Subgroup||PS 172||State Avg||Difference|
|Limited English Proficient||54||5||1080%|
|Students with Disabilities||61||6||1016%|
Based on such results, it’s not surprising that PS 172 has received national media attention and has been trumpeted as a “jewel” of the New York City schools that “outperforms schools in tony suburbs like Larchmont and Great Neck.”
Politics or problem solving? Polemics or pragmatism?
Right now the conversation surrounding the charter versus public debate is dominated by politics and polemics. What we need is pragmatism and problem solving. We shouldn’t be arguing whether to replicate either the PS 172 model or the Uncommon School model, for example. Instead, we should be identifying explicitly what each does well that could be transferred efficiently to low performing schools.
There are fledging efforts to pair charters and public schools in learning conversations. But they are inadequate. What we need are aggressive efforts to
- Identify the highest performing schools — both public and charter.
- Rigorously verify the strategies they employ to achieve extraordinary results.
- Clearly communicate those strategies using a modern, easily accessible clearinghouse.
- And then replicate them efficiently to low performing schools.
Our children — especially low income, urban students of color — deserve much better than distorted, acrimonious debates. They deserve solutions and results. Wherever possible, we need to steal from the best, regardless of whether they are charter or public.